Sen. Lowell Weicker, I kid you not, has gulled the Senate of the United States into passing a bill the relevant section of which reads, ''Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no object from the R.M.S. Titanic may be imported into the customs territory of the United States for the purpose of commercial gain after the date of enactment of this act.''
The day's news tells us that the French expedition that has been exploring the Titanic for several weeks has fingered the ship's strongbox, which it is proceeding to remove. The French 54-day, $2.5 million expedition is underwritten by something called the Ocean Research Organization, a British corporation. There is also backing from an American television company. There is a lot of talk circulating, some of it to the effect that artifacts taken from the Titanic are going into a French museum. There is, one gathers, the possibility of a televised opening of the strongbox, much as was done when the safe of the Andrea Doria was opened under spectacular auspices, giving the worldwide audience an intimate view of soggy 30-year-old low-denomination currency.
Now, one of Sen. Weicker's points is that U.S. technology discovered the location of the Titanic, and that Robert Ballard, the scientist who led the expedition that discovered the Titanic in 1985, recommended that the ship should be left undisturbed.
Eva Hart, an 82-year-old survivor of the Titanic disaster, is quoted: ''The grave should be left alone. They're simply going to do it as fortune hunters, vultures, pirates.'' Doing ''it'' means, we are to suppose, taking from the Titanic such oddments as plates, wine bottles, jewelry, strongboxes that would otherwise remain within the vessel's creaky carapace.
One doesn't quite know what to make of it, and it doesn't help at all to read the remarks of Sen. Weicker when he introduced his bill. Sometimes, on reading Weicker and trying to understand him, one wishes one had been assigned to decipher the Rosetta Stone. He told the Senate that ''it is only a matter of time before the world is going to have to turn to these oceans for food and fuel.'' So? So, ''When the Earth does turn to the oceans for its food and its fuel, do not forget it has to be a resource that lasts millions of years rather than just a decade or two to satisfy our most immediate desires.'' Well, if we promise not to forget, then what? I mean, what does that have to do with the case for leaving the Titanic intact under the water?
Here is what troubles:
1) Who told Congress it has any right to tell an American who wants a plate from the dining room of the Titanic, which an independent salvage operation pulls out and is willing to sell, that he/she can't have it? The plate contains no communicable germs. It is not a lethal instrument. It is not a threat to the separation of church and state. So who is Lowell Weicker to tell the American collector that he can't be the willing buyer in dealing with a willing seller?
2) I have several times sailed over the mortal remains of the Andrea Doria, and record that there is no difference at all in the quality of the sensation sailing over it with its safe still in place and not in place. The Titanic is 2 1/2 miles below the surface of the ocean, and any yachtsman passing over it will be aware that he is doing so only by taking micromeasurements on his Geographical Positioning System. It is impossible to understand exactly why he is supposed to feel different about the experience if the Titanic is missing its full inventory of kitchen equipment.
3) If the Weicker vow were to be universalized, would we need to return to the Pyramids everything that has been taken from them? Some of the treasures from the Pyramids reside in museums, some are privately owned. Many that are now in museums were once in private hands.
I for one admire the enterprise of the consortium that is spending much of the summer retrieving from utter uselessness artifacts that, for some people, exercise an alluring historical appeal. Wouldn't want one myself, but then I don't collect stamps, and my collection of fatuities by Lowell Weicker is so huge I've run out of room.